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Sometime mid-June, I was working with colleagues on a presentation that was going to Absa and we were confused about whether to use the Barclay’s blue or the Absa red as the basis for the document. After a bit of research, I found out Absa was actually going to be relaunching a brand-new look in July. I was intrigued to see what the unveiling would be, and yesterday, it was officially launched.

My first encounter with the new brand was seeing a tweet from Absa in the morning, I tapped the profile picture and saw the new red logo on white background. My knee jerk impression was ‘hmmmm, this quite the departure from the previous look’. It looks weird, looks a bit amateurish, slightly clumsy, but different and friendlier, a bit more accessible.

Brand unveilings never go off without a hitch, and true to form, I saw quite a few people ripping it to shreds on social media. Some people said it looked like a WhatsApp status. Others said it looked lazy or like no time was spent on it. The vitriol in some of those comments were…well this is the internet.

But first impressions are not always correct, and certainly the shock of change is real and takes time to wear off while we get used to it. So, after more exploration and inspection of the rest of the brand and its application, and watching the Absa/Intel drone show, and updating my banking app…I like it. I like it a lot.

Let me explain why.

To appreciate a rebrand, you have to understand its context. What happened before? Why the need for this change? To evaluate a rebrand, you have to understand the intent and what they are trying to achieve now. Does the execution do justice to the intention?

Absa’s Past

I thought Absa was a very old brand, but the company is only about 27 years old, with the previous iteration of the brand about 20 years old. Introduced in 1998, Absa had this this very straightforward, corporate, blue chip vibe. Absa was a conservative brand, like the old uncle. Not uncool, just serious and down to business. Everything you would expect from a banking brand in the past era.

Such a brand essence feels dated in today’s climate of technology and the internet. We are getting used to brands becoming more human, more sympathetic and friendlier. Brands are understanding that they can’t just talk down to their customers form on high. They have to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

The present banking space is dominated by the main 5 – FNB, ABSA, Standard Bank, Nedbank and Capitec. As far as innovation and brand excitement go, FNB has been leading the pack for a while. Unveiling exciting new campaigns, products and ways to bank. Capitec has delighted its customers with great features, fees and benefits. Standard Bank does a lot of brand activation activities and events, but nothing readily comes to mind around its actual products or services so the brand still feels a bit stagnant. Nedbank…I don’t know much about Nedbank, except that they have a deep green hue and seem more focused on corporate investment banking and wealth management.

(Disclaimer: I have been with Absa for over a decade and so I have interfaced with that brand the most. I put together this piece rather quickly so I haven’t done an exhaustive comparative on all the players in the space. These are my just thoughts and impressions off the cuff)

 

 

Sometime in 2015 or so, there were rumours floating that Absa was going to rebrand to Barclays Africa, and it was going to trade as that. Some rebranding efforts went underway, Noticeable in a new website and banking app. However, by last year, Barclays pulled out of Africa recently, reducing their stake in Absa. Absa shifted from a European-owned financial group to become a proudly African firm. For the first time in 15 years, they have the opportunity to chart a new course and offer a new narrative. Where would they go with it?

 

The New Absa Strategy

Absa tackled their rebrand process in an inclusive journey involving over 130 000 employees, clients, customers, consumers and stakeholders, collecting ideas from within as opposed to leaving it solely in the hands of top brass.

So, what is the result of this process? What is Absa’s response to its newly found freedom and this present banking landscape?

To drive growth by going more human.

At the core of the Absa strategy is growth. They want to increase revenue and regain market share, focusing on retail and business banking, corporate and investment banking, rest of Africa, and wealth management and insurance.

 

 

Looking at their strategic outlook, you can see 3 main priorities,

  1. Creating a thriving organization– focusing on culture creation, becoming people-centric, becoming customer centric, and empowering ownership internally
  2. Restoring leadership in core businesses– in retail, becoming the business bank of choice, winning in corporate investment banking, wealth management, etc.
  3. Build pioneering new propositions– superior consumer finance, a leading global payments hub and a winning transaction banking platform

In summary, be more people centric, regain market share, and create new solutions that match the new digital economy and climate.

With this in mind, let us look at the visual branding.

 

The new logo

For a logo to be deemed successful it has to be simple, scalable, memorable, versatile and relevant. In today’s landscape, brand touchpoints range from the big (buildings and billboards) to the tiny (the app icon on your screen). In addition to all of that, logos now also need to be responsive, shape-shifting and adapting to different scales without loss of recognition. I think the new Absa logo does fairly well in reference to those requirements. Although I would argue the previous logo collapsed better to its main icon, the stylised ‘A’.

The logo is circular. I like circular logos. They are balanced and self-contained, and generally iconic. They  work well in the digital/app environment. The broken circle motif is interesting, I’m not entirely sure the exact rationale for that, but it does lend a feeling of movement and is expandable into various brand applications. I think it really comes to life when it is animated. The broken circle in motion is a very digital native sign and speaks to the idea of ‘loading’.

The typeface is what I had the most problem with at first. Looks like a lowercase Ubuntu, with some adjustments, especially with the ‘s’. I’m just not a huge fan, the letters seem a bit bulky and overly rounded. I prefer more crisp, clean modern fonts, but I would imagine this choice does lend it a bit more approachability, a bit more mass appeal than a clinical look and feel. It is a friendly feeling font.

Like I said, the brand launched to cries of ‘lazy!’ And ‘my 5 year old daughter and her dog could have come up with this!’. But the fact that a logo is simple does not mean that the process to get there was simple. It can take hundreds of iterations and options to get to a final logo, and the success of a brand is not just about the logo itself, but how it is applied across all touch points. The new logo might be simple, (which is a good thing for modern brands) but it is also more dynamic with a wider range of application than the old logo, expanding to conversational brackets or even smiley faces.

Also they just launched WhatsApp banking  as well so if you think the logo looks like a WhatsApp status, maybe they just tryna tell you something…

Colours

 

 

Absa maintained the colour red, but a slightly different shade from the previous red they had before. I’m cool with that. There is plenty brand equity in the colour. Red has been synonymous with Absa. Previously chosen for its association with excitement and energy, now it has the added meaning of being an ‘African’ colour – warm tones and all.

ABSA has moved from just the plain red, to a wider range of hues keeping with the African theme and giving the brand more room to express itself. I dig it.

 

 

 

Imagery / Application

The introduction video shows us a glimpse into the visual style of the new brand. It is fun, it is warm, it is exciting, it is colourful, it is vibrant. The feeling of future facing optimism is palpable in the animations, the imagery and the song.

 

Slogans

With the new look, Absa has also moved from its ‘Prosper’ Campaign and now has two slogans.

The first is ‘Africanacity’ which they define as the ‘distinctly African ability to always find ways to get things done’ and the second slogan, ‘Brave. Passionate. Ready’ describes their new-found attitude.

I find the word ‘Africanacity’ a bit clumsy, but I do like the sentiment, and will probably get used to saying it if I just say it like 10 times in a row.

Absa also has a new purpose statement – ‘bringing your possibilities to life’. They want to help you make ‘what is possible real’. As you can see with the ad placement below, Absa is embracing the future, embracing technology with optimism, finding ways to help people get things done despite all odds.

 

In conclusion, I think the rebrand was done well. I like the new logo, I like the new look and feel, and I like the overall strategic direction. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, let’s see if the Absa experience lives up to the promise of its new brand.

What are your thoughts on the rebrand?